‘Moxie’ makes noteworthy attempt at intersectional feminism

Though we should handle it with caution, “Moxie” fills a gaping hole in the Netflix catalog.

By Anna Kochman

Amy Poehler’s new high school dramedy “Moxie,” a Netflix original, doesn’t have a lot to live up to. The streaming site is littered with teen movies that offer nothing but Noah Centineo.

This is why I was surprised to enjoy “Moxie,” for the most part.

Though it has some setbacks, “Moxie” does what it sets out to do: reframe the typical “girl power” teen movie through the lens of intersectionality. An up-and-coming cast of ridiculously likable characters (spearheaded by new heartthrob Nico Hiraga in the role of the love interest, Seth) grounds the film, even when it sometimes loses focus.

The movie follows Vivian (Hadley Robinson), a shy budding feminist who’s inspired by her mother (Amy Poehler) to start a ‘90s riot grrrl-esque movement called Moxie at her school, complete with an incendiary zine. Tensions rise between the girls of Moxie and the patriarchal structure of their high school, all while Vivian juggles a new boyfriend and a changing home life.

Before we go any further, we have to address the fact that Vivian shouldn’t have been the protagonist of “Moxie.” The diverse group of girls who run Moxie don’t need Vivian’s often uneducated brand of white feminism. The pitfall of Poehler as the director is that her feminism hearkens from a bygone era and influences the movie’s perspective.

Rather, the lead should have gone to Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Peña), the new student who inspires Vivian to rebrand her feminism to be more inclusive. Lucy recognizes the danger of the school’s structural racism and sexism, and fights it every chance she gets. Vivian uses tired words like “fierce” to refer to Lucy, further entrenching the “sassy Black woman” stereotype in our collective schema. Instead, Poehler should have let Lucy own the lead role’s “riot grrrl” feminism, cute love interest and well-rounded character.

With the roles of Vivian and Lucy reversed, Vivian might have been a good white ally and role model for young viewers. As it stands, Vivian’s character gets too much screen time in a role that a Black girl needed to play.

That said, “Moxie” gives voice to a variety of characters who have yet to be represented in a teen movie like this one. It’s the most accessible, fun representation of intersectional feminism on the Netflix market.

The soundtrack was a big highlight, guided by Bikini Kill’s abrasive punk rock and supplemented with songs from Princess Nokia, Lucy Dacus and Tierra Whack. Supporting characters also stole the show with an honest and important performance from Vivian’s best friend Claudia (Lauren Tsai). She delivers a powerful line to Vivian: “You don’t get what’s going on with me because you’re white.”

Perhaps unintentionally, “Moxie” represents exactly what the landscape of feminism is like right now. The zine Vivian distributes in her school is plastered with sentiments of “girl power” and the like. It’s comparable to the white feminist infographic-style Instagram posts of the moment. We claim to uplift the voices of marginalized communities within the feminist sphere, but inevitably, white women hog the spotlight. For that reason, it’s an important film for budding feminists to watch and critique.

Poehler makes some blunders as she tries desperately to cover her bases. Disabled and transgender actors are hastily included but rarely mentioned. The movie concludes with a mob of students seemingly celebrating the end of sexism at their school. It’s a little too neat and tidy to represent the complexity of real intersectional feminism.

However, for what it is — a teen romantic comedy turned activist drama — “Moxie” is big. Peaking at number one on Netflix’s Top 10 list, it will have a huge impact on millions of little girls around the world. For kids who have never come into contact with the idea that dress codes are inherently sexist, or that feminism isn’t only for white girls, this film will plant seeds in their heads that Netflix had not previously dared to sow.

“Moxie,” though cheesy at times and often misguided, represents a shift in the vapid content available to teens. It’s a groundbreaking message, all wrapped up in a cute “girl power” bow.

_Edited by Chloe Konrad | ckonrad@themaneater.com

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